Defending Faith

ImageTimothy J. Wengert, Defending Faith: Lutheran Response to Andreas Osiander’s Doctrine of Justification, 1551-1559 [Studies in the Late Middle Ages, Humanism and the Reformation, vol. 65] (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), xiv+468pp.

by Piotr Malysz

This monograph chronicles the development of a bitter controversy over justification that erupted in mid-16th century among heirs to Luther’s reformation. The controversy was occasioned by the teaching of Andreas Osiander, the “primary” theologian of Ducal Prussia, who rejected what he understood to be a merely declaratory conception of justification. He insisted, instead, that it was God’s essential righteousness that made believers righteous through the indwelling of Christ, according to his divine nature.

Wengert’s intention is not to present an overview of Osiander’s theology. He seeks, rather, to fill a different scholarly lacuna through a painstakingly meticulous analysis of the controversy’s printed output (90 separate publications in some 125 printings just in the years 1550-1559). Osiander’s own voice is heard occasionally through his own writings, but, as Wengert notes, he was “if not outclassed then certainly outgunned” (353). Wengert’s chief focus is thus on how Osiander’s ideas were interpreted by his opponents and on why they met with such widespread condemnation.

Adopting this lens allows Wengert to refract the Osiandrist controversy into a number of perspectives from which it might be approached. He discusses among others: (i) the types of response (printed or private), their genres, and the geographical, educational and theological provenance of the respondents; (ii) the likely and unlikely alliances that the controversy led to (such as that between erstwhile opponents, Matthias Flacius and Philip Melanchthon); (iii) the perceived doctrinal implications of Osiander’s ideas; (iv) and the nature of appeals to Luther’s authority. Of particular interest are the latter two. First, Wengert manages to show just how far-reaching were the consequences of Osiander’s understanding of righteousness, according to his opponents. The respondents emphasized variously the communication of properties between Christ’s natures, the Anselmian doctrine of the atonement, the theology of the cross, the need for pastoral comfort, the relation of theology to philosophy, etc.  In addition, Wengert shows the complex hermeneutical issues attending the elevation of Luther to the status of a church father par excellence and the ultimate arbiter of sound scriptural interpretation.

This multi-perspectival approach, in turn, allows Wengert to challenge, or nuance, various longstanding scholarly opinions. To begin with, Wengert’s research is inscribed into a larger effort to save Melanchthon’s reputation from the charges of doctrinal pussyfooting, and he does this with particular persuasiveness. Likewise, Wengert wishes both to distance the Swabian theologian, Johannes Brenz, from the unreflective charge of Osiandrian tendencies, while demonstrating Brenz’s clear desire to prevent the controversy from pastorally-harmful and politically-imprudent escalation. But Wengert’s goals go beyond textual archeology. His analysis seeks to illuminate the practical nature of 16th-century polemic, its pastoral focus, as opposed to an abstract or theoretical interest that aims at consensus by treating the opposing positions as equal (100, 194). However, the thrust of Wengert’s analysis of the variegated-yet-unified rejection of Osiander by a host of his theological contemporaries is aimed at the Finnish Luther research, especially the latter’s tendency to look for a soteriology centered on theosis in Luther’s theology.

It is in regard to the latter that a critical point ought to be raised. Throughout the book’s exhaustive argument, Wenger’s attitude to Osiander, as a theologian, thinker, and polemicist, remains perceptibly negative. As he criticizes Osiander for speculative ontologizing, Wengert himself plainly favors a view of justification that centers on a relation (339), established through a Word event (316, 335). But it becomes clear that what Wengert rejects, via Osiander, as ontology is a Platonic notion of participation (he is more approving of Aristotelian notions of causality, deployed by Osiander’s opponents). Yet there is surely more to ontology in general, and the ontological implications of Luther’s theology in particular, than a simple juxtaposition between Plato (and Aristotle) and a relational event. The research of Oswald Bayer and others which aims to uncover the ontological underpinnings of Luther’s theology, grounded in the communicatio idiomatum, is a case in point.

This said, Wengert’s work is a brilliant achievement in providing a staggeringly detailed and perceptive analysis of the Osiandrist controversy. As such, it illumines the nature of doctrinal consensus that drove late-Reformation and, to some degree, post-Reformation confessionalization. And it helps one to understand the theological and, above all, pastoral concerns that motivated the rise of Protestant orthodoxy.

This review first appeared in Theological Book Review 25:1 (2013) 55-56.

Some Remarks on Lutheran Christology

By Piotr J. Malysz

The Person of Christ

Luther’s critique of the disastrous anthropological consequences of late medieval piety ultimately aims at the right view of God as Saviour, who exchanges his righteousness for his people’s sin.  Luther does not begin, like Anselm, with a theoretical consideration of why God should have become a human but proceeds instead from the reality, impact, and sacramental availability of redemption.  It is the self-authenticating validity of Christ’s work, with justified humans in turn justifying God (LW 26:233), that presupposes the personal union and the communication of properties between Christ’s divine and human natures.

Although Luther has been frequently charged with docetism or monophysitism, and although many of his successors were reluctant to embrace some of his christological insights, Luther does construct his Christology within a fundamentally Chalcedonian framework of Christ’s being one person in two natures.  In fact, he consistently maintains the soteriological focus of the Chalcedonian definition, which leads him where Chalcedon ultimately failed to go and where post-Chalcedonian reflection ventured only timidly.  Though the council carefully distinguished between hypostasis and natures, it failed, according to Robert Jenson, to determine what sort of ontological category ‘hypostasis’ was.  In light of what Chalcedon says about the natures, one may, in fact, conclude that “the ‘one hypostasis’ is nothing actual, and that the natures’ union has no material consequences for the state or activity of either nature.”[1]

Luther’s soteriological emphasis leads him to begin with the actuality of the communication of properties between the divine and human natures in Christ’s person.  Because there is life-giving exchange between CImagehrist and the sinner, there must also be an exchange of properties between Christ’s natures.  Luther firmly believes that nothing less will do if one wishes to do justice to the salvation which Christ accomplished for sin-bound and moribund humanity: “if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, his side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. … God in his own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance [ein ding] or one person with God” (LW 41:103-4).  This is a novel point of departure, in that Luther does not begin with the natures, carefully circumscribing them in separation from each other before bringing them together.  Moreover, Luther does not begin with an assertion that the properties of each nature are merely predicated of the other nature by virtue of the personal union.  The properties are actually shared and not only verbally ascribed to the other nature.  The communication is actual, because Christ is a single person, and it is Christ’s person, as both God and man, who is the agent behind all his works that the natures enable.  It is not the natures that do the doing; it is rather the single and actual person.  In his eucharistic confession against the Swiss, Luther defends this position: “[The Zwinglians] raise a hue and cry against us, saying that we mingle the two natures into one essence [ein wesen].  This is not true. We do not say that divinity is humanity, or that the divine nature is the human nature, which would be confusing the natures into one essence.”  That was actually the error of Schwenckfeld, who taught the complete absorption of Christ’s humanity by his divinity in the state of exaltation.  Luther continues: “Rather, we merge the two distinct natures into one single person, and say: God is man and man is God. … But if the works are divided and separated, the person will also have to be separated, since all the doing and suffering are not ascribed to natures but to persons. … Therefore we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, ‘neither confusing the natures nor dividing the person’ (LW 37:212-3).

In line with the Chalcedonian tradition, Luther does conceptually distinguish between the two natures, designated by the abstract terms, divinity and humanity.  But he also realises that semantic logic, governing the use of these terms, may be as much an obstacle as it is helpful.  He writes: “reason wants to be clever here and not tolerate that God should die or have any human characteristics, even though it is used to believing like Nestorius, that Christ [only in a manner of speaking] is God.”  Luther turns against much of the medieval tradition with its merely notional understanding of the communicatio and asks: “Who knows how many Nestorians may still be in the papacy?” (LW 41:105).  Responding to the argument that the same thing cannot be predicated of both God and man, in the Disputatio de divinitate et humanitate Christi, Luther admits that it is true, but only in philosophy, where “there is no relation between the creature and the Creator, between the finite and the infinite.  But we not only establish a relation, but a union of the finite and the infinite” (WA 39II:112).  He attacks Aristotle for doing incalculable damage to theology.  As Anna Vind argues in her commentary on Luther’s statement, “Christ is … made sin for us metaphorically” (LW 32:200), metaphorical language, with its capacity to assign new meanings, offers to Luther a way of escaping the confines of semantic logic and achieving more clarity of expression.  But Luther breaks with the rhetorical principles dating back to Roman antiquity when he rejects that similarity be the basis of metaphor and when he claims that metaphor involves not merely verbal transfer but an actual translatio rerum.  This makes metaphorical speech closer to reality than non-metaphorical speech, crippled as the latter is by its internal logic.  It also makes metaphorical language the prerogative of God, who through his Word speaks (new and unexpected) reality into being: God became a human being, more than that, sin for us.

In addition to the salvific exchange between Christ and the sinner, Luther’s insistence on the reality of the communicatio idiomatum between Christ’s natures (considered not as rigid philosophical concepts but retrospectively through the work of the person) also enabled him to dismiss eucharistic transubstantiation as a constraining and unnecessary philosophical construct based on Aristotelian substance-metaphysics.  In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther articulated his christological principle: “what is true in regard to Christ is also true in regard to the sacrament. In order for the divine nature to dwell in him bodily, it is not necessary for the human nature to be transubstantiated and the divine nature contained under the accidents of the human nature. Both natures are simply there in their entirety…  Even though philosophy cannot grasp this, faith grasps it nonetheless” (LW 36:35).  Luther applied the same principle in his polemic with Zwingli, this time arguing not for the real presence of the bread and the wine but of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament.


Luther and his followers faced a tremendous challenge when they began to spell out the metaphysical consequences of this realist view of the communicatio, given canonical form in Luther’s statement, “wherever you place God for me, you must also place the humanity for me” (LW 37:219; later cited in Formula concordiae SD VIII.84).  Things were exacerbated when the Lutherans began to construct their dogmatic systems and, in doing so, never quite allowed themselves to be influenced in their locus on God, which ordinarily preceded the locus on Christ, by Luther’s emphasis on redemption effected by the God-man Christ (one notable exception was the very first edition of Melanchthon’s Loci).  Instead, they resorted to standard metaphysical accounts, thus establishing the parameters for the discussion to follow by means of natural theology and treating divinity as an ontologically fixed category.  This posed tremendous problems when it came to divine attributes such as omnipotence and omnipresence.  While Luther allowed divine omnipotence to be qualified by the event of God’s death (which later, too, became subject to controversy), for his successors the impact of the hypostatic union on Christ’s divinity, absolutely immutable by definition, was out of the question.

What aroused heated debate, instead, was the precise character of the communication from the divine nature to the human, especially the presence of Christ’s body’s and the reality of Christ’s earthly life prior to the resurrection and ascension.  The Swabian theologian, Johannes Brenz, in his treatise De vera maiestate Domini nostri Iesu Christi (1564), argued that heaven was not a spatial realm but was rather the place of God, who is his own place and to whom everything else is present.  While this took care of the omnipresence of Christ’s exalted body, insofar as ubiquity meant being above every place, Brenz was less successful in accounting for how this body was therefore capable of being available in particular localities.  Chemnitz, on the other hand, in his work, The Two Natures in Christ (1570), made the divine will responsible for the communication of attributes from the divine to the human nature, which introduced a degree of insatiability and threatened the integrity of Christ’s person.  In a way, this was a return to a mere supposital understanding of the unio personalis, which Luther had sought to overcome in the scholastic theology he had inherited.[2]  But Chemnitz’s conception was, arguably, better suited to a realistic treatment of Christ’s earthly life.  The Formula of Concord presents an interesting combination of these two positions.  First, in keeping with Luther’s axiom, it affirms that Christ exercises his majesty “in, with and through” his human nature (SD VIII.66).  It then tries to make sense of it by applying it to Christ’s life on earth.  On the one hand, it states that Christ “possessed this majesty from his conception in the womb of his mother.”  He thus had, and never ceased to have, this majesty in consequence of the incarnation, even as he forever retains his human nature.  What, then, is one to make of the assertion that, when exalted, he “was installed into the full possession and use of his divine majesty according to his assumed human nature”?  This second statement – by trying to do justice to the servant-like character of Christ’s life – seems to imply that the majesty was Christ’s, according to his human nature, only after his exaltation. Further, even if one naturally maintains that Christ was already, in the incarnation, in full possession of the divine majesty, did he simply “keep it secret” or did he actually “empty” himself of it in an act of self-humiliation? (SD VIII.26).  That this was a real problem was evidenced by the controversy that erupted in the early seventeenth century between the theological faculties of Giessen and Tübingen.  The debated issue was whether, in the state of humiliation, Christ, according to his human nature, participated in the full exercise of the divine attributes and merely hid it, as the Tübingen scholars held; or whether, by assuming the form of a servant, he had surrendered the human nature’s share in the divine majesty altogether, which was the position of the Giessen faculty.  The decision rendered at the time (1624) came in favour of Giessen, presumably because of this position’s more historically, narratively dynamic character.  However, one wonders whether the view expressed by the Tübingeners was not more consistent with Luther’s christological principles.

Luther’s successors were fully aware of the radical nature of their Christology, especially vis-à-vis the scholastic tradition, with its carefully laid-out distinctions – although, because of their own metaphysical assumptions, they were also closer to it than they thought.  Luther might have regarded scholastic theology as too philosophical and too timid; his successors thought only that it was timid.  But this still led them to invest a considerable amount of effort into demonstrating that the communication of divine attributes to Christ’s human nature was, in fact, the teaching of the Bible and had also been taught by the ancient church.  The fruit of that effort was the Catalog of Testimonies – a collection of patristic citations, mostly from the Greek fathers – appended to the early editions of the Book of Concord.


Excerpted and abridged from: Piotr J. Malysz, “Luther and the Lutherans,” The Oxford Handbook to the Reception History of Christian Theology (Oxford: University Press, 2013), forthcoming.

[1] Robert W. Jenson, “Luther’s Contemporary Theological Significance,” Donald K. McKim (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge: University Press, 2003), 274.

[2] Jörg Baur, “Ubiquität,” Oswald Bayer and Benjamin Gleede (eds.), Creator est Creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007), 227-54

Scripture and Faith: The Lutheran View

By Hermann Sasse

It may happen that an un-Lutheran faith seizes control of the forms of the Lutheran church and that then this church is only externally a Lutheran church.  This indicates the danger which threatens every Lutheran church at all times.  Missouri is no exception to the rule.

This danger becomes visible in the case of a notable shift of emphasis which can be observed in the theology of the Missouri Synod.  …Dr. P. E. Kretzmann begins his book, The Foundations Must Stand! The Inspiration of the Bible and Related Questions (St. Louis, 1936) with a statement on the importance of the doctrine of Inspiration of the Holy Scripture:

We commonly refer to the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the central doctrine of the Christian religion, the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae.  But even this fundamental truth of personal faith is not a matter of subjective certainty.  Rather, it depends rather, as do all other articles of faith, on the objective certainty of the Word of God as a whole and in all its parts.  In this respect the doctrine of Inspiration of the Bible is fundamental for the entire corpus doctrinae (p. 3).

We may assume that any orthodox Presbyterian, Baptist, or Adventists could have written these sentences in precisely this manner.  It is, however, our conviction that they can be brought into harmony neither with the theology of Luther nor with the teaching of the Confessions.  Reformed Fundamentalism makes the relationship to Christ depend on the relationship to the Bible, as Catholicism makes it depend on the relationship to the church.  This is a wrong deduction from the fact that without the Scripture or the oral Word which is based upon the Scripture we would know nothing of Christ.  The faith of the Lutheran church in the Scripture is based on her faith in Christ.  It is basically faith in Christ, because the Bible, and this is true of the whole Bible, is testimony concerning Christ.  Our faith in the Bible as the infallible Word of God is therefore an entirely different faith from the faith of Fundamentalism in the Bible, which at least logically and factually precedes faith in Christ.  The conviction that the Scripture from beginning to end is inspired and therefore the inerrant Word of God, whose statements can be trusted absolutely, is not necessarily Christian faith.  The orthodox rabbis have the same faith with respect to the Old Testament.  The “Christadelphians,” “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and other heretics who deny the true deity of the Son and therefore also the true deity of the Holy Spirit, who therefore do not even know what inspiration in the biblical and Christian sense is (Mt 10:20; Jn 16:13ff.), but make out of the Scripture a book of oracles after the fashion of the heathen sibyls, likewise teach the plenary inspiration and the absolute inerrancy of the Scripture, which shows plainly that this doctrine is not an absolute defense against false doctrine.  Least of all does it guard against unbelief.  On the contrary!  As it was but a brief step from the Orthodoxy of a Hollaz to the Rationalism of a Semler, so also there is but one step from Fundamentalism to unbelief.  One can only respect the seriousness with which earnest Reformed Christians desire to hold to the authority of Scripture.  But one must also see the tragic reality when human opinions, for instance, concerning the age of the earth, are proclaimed as divinely revealed truths, with the result that with these opinions the authority of the Scripture collapses.  What kind of Christianity is that which can be refuted by a photograph of the depths of space, or by the facts—(not theories)—of radioactivity!  No, Luther’s mighty faith in the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God has nothing in common with this understanding of the Scripture current in Fundamentalism.  One seeks for it in vain in the Lutheran confessional writings.

If the theologians of the Missouri Synod believed that it was necessary to draw up an explicit doctrine of the Holy Scripture, its inspiration and inerrancy, which goes beyond the brief sentences of the Lutheran Confession, in order to oppose the apostasy from the Word of God which was taking place also in Lutheran churches this must be considered a wholly legitimate undertaking.  This must be granted, and it is to be regretted that the necessity of such formulation of doctrine was not recognized everywhere.  But then Missouri should have formulated a truly Lutheran doctrine of the Holy Scripture, a doctrine which is in complete harmony with the Confession and which takes seriously the principle of the Formula of Concord, that Luther is the foremost teacher of the church of the Augsburg Confession.  Instead, the fathers of the Missouri Synod simply took over the doctrine of the later Orthodoxy (Baier, Quenstedt) concerning the Scripture, without even asking themselves the question, whether this doctrine is Lutheran, and whether it can be brought into harmony with the Confession.  One need not take this amiss if one considers with what difficulty the fathers of the Lutheran revival also in Germany had to work their way back to the Lutheran doctrine.  They were not yet able to see what a deep chasm exists between the understanding of revelation with Luther as compared with the Orthodoxy of the seventeenth century.  Today this is different.

Historical research in Lutheran theology has shown how deeply Orthodoxy was influenced by the same Aristotelian philosophy which Luther had banished from dogmatics.  We know now that Orthodoxy is a very similar synthesis of the natural (reason) and the supernatural (revelation) knowledge of God as was the scholasticism of the Middle Ages.

Excerpted from “Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod” (1951), Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995), 214-217.

Readers my also be interested in A. C. Piepkorn’s essay, “What Does Inerrancy Mean?”

Theological Fragments: Pannenberg on the Holy Spirit

The confession that the Holy Spirit is “person” … expresses primarily the experience that the Christian is not his own lord.  Insofar as he lives out of faith in Christ, the center of his person that determines his behavior lies outside himself.  The personal center of Christian action is the Holy Spirit

That the Spirit is the personal center of Christian action residing outside of the individual makes it understandable that in Paul, as elsewhere in primitive Christianity, the Spirit is characterized both as person distinguished from the Christians and also as a power that they possess internally.  The Spirit comes to our aid (Rom. 8:26), gives witness to our spirit (v. 16), and claims our service (ch. 7:6); but he is also given to us, received by us, dwells in the believers, rests upon them.  That both series of statements belong together is made clear by the insight that the Christian exists outside himself to the extent that he lives in faith in the resurrected Jesus and thus “in the Spirit.”  The immanence of the Spirit in believers exists only through the fact that as believers they have found the ground of their life extra se, beyond themselves.

– Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. L. L. Wilkins & D. A. Priebe (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968), 177.

Theological Fragments: Hell and Lutheran Theology (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

An interesting take (a critique, to be precise) on the ethical implications of the Lutherans’ non-spatial understanding of heaven:

“Surely it’s impossible, I think, that the devils will forget to drag me down to their place with their hooks when I die.  And then I think: hooks?  Where do they get them?  Wheat are they made of?  Iron?  Where do they forge them?  Have they got some factory down there?  You know, in the monastery the monks probably believe there’s a ceiling in hell, for instance.  Now me, I’m ready to believe in hell, only there shouldn’t be any ceiling; that would be, as it were, more refined, more enlightened, more Lutheran, in other words.  Does it really make any difference—with a ceiling or without a ceiling?  But that’s what the damned question is all about!  Because if there’s no ceiling, then there are no hooks.  And if there are no hooks, the whole thing falls apart, which, again, is unlikely, because then who will drag me down with hooks, because if they don’t’ drag me down, what then, and where is there any justice in the world?  Il faudrait les inventer [they would have to be invented], those hooks, just for me, for me alone, because you have no idea, Alyosha, what a stinker I am…!”

Fyodor Pavlovich in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, trans. R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky

Polish Lutherans Facing Their Communist Past

The Case of Bishop Jagucki

In March 2007 the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (ECAC) in Poland established a historical commission for the purpose of investigating the infiltration of the church’s structures by the communist secret police, or Security Service, as it was officially called. The ECAC, it must be added, was the first church body in Poland, including the Roman-Catholic church, to face its past in this manner.  The step earned it much praise from certain Catholic journalists and clergy who are to this day waiting for a similar act of institutional courage, as the Lutherans’ decision was then widely viewed.

Things, not surprisingly, were off to a rather slow start, given the intricacies of archival work, for which only some of the commission’s members were professionally qualified as either archivists or historians.  However, as time went by, what was initially seen as seriousness and caution gave way to the impression that the commission was, in reality, dragging its feet rather than fulfilling its mandate.  Its most important task was the investigation of the archival material pertaining to the church’s current leadership: the bishops, members of the Consistory and of the Syndical Council.

Reasons for this apparent reluctance became clear when, in September 2008, the nationwide daily Rzeczpospolita, published an article entitled The Pastor and the Security Service, by Lutheran journalist Cezary Gmyz.[1]  It brought the startling revelation that among political police informers in the church’s ranks was also its current presiding bishop (and, ironically, president of the commission’s supervisory college[2]), the Rt. Rev. Janusz Jagucki.  When elected Bishop of the Church in 2001, Jagucki never disclosed to the church that, as a pastor, he had for 17 years maintained secret contacts with the Security Service.  What the archival evidence now showed with painful clarity was not only Bishop Jagucki’s collaboration but also its more-than-willing character.

The historical commission eventually concurred in this judgment and, in March 2009, in a secret ballot declared Bishop Jagucki guilty of persistent and conscious collaboration with the communist secret police – a collaboration, the commission concluded, that had undeniably harmed the church.  Materials gathered in Jagucki’s thousand-page file, some of them in his own handwriting, show that, as a pastor, he was the one who often initiated meetings.  He informed widely on parishioners, fellow pastors, and even members of his own family, as well as undertaking to obtain intelligence of interest to the Security Service.  A particularly egregious example was Jagucki’s betrayal of a runaway from the German Democratic Republic who had turned to him for help.  For his collaboration Pastor Jagucki seems to have occasionally accepted small financial gifts (some signed receipts have been preserved).

Jagucki’s collaboration, it is now known, was hardly an isolated case.  The past three years have seen a flurry of historical studies of the Polish Lutheran church’s entanglement with the communist regime, including the first monograph which covers the years 1945-75.[3]  While there is little doubt that pastors who were secret informers remained a minority, it was clearly a significant and influential minority.  Today it is estimated that 20% to 30% of the clergy were, in some measure, Security Service informers.[4]  The figure, it seems, does not differ much from the level of infiltration of the Roman-Catholic church.  But there are several factors which make matters worse in the case of the Lutheran church.  The first is its small size.  With only 200 or so pastors, professional and personal interconnectedness is extremely high.  It is practically impossible not to know more than one perhaps should about fellow pastors.  Second, the informers were generally high-ranking church officials, diocesan superintendents, or pastors of prominent parishes.  They were the decision makers, and the fate of their brothers in the ministry often lay in their hands.  The Security Service was obviously interested in informers that were deemed valuable.  Finally, as the former military bishop, Ryszard Borski, notes in a biographical essay, students graduating from the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw, in contrast to graduates of Catholic seminaries, received no preparation for, or even an informal warning about, the possibility of an enlistment attempt.  This made young Lutheran pastors all the more vulnerable in confrontation with the seemingly all-powerful communist apparatus of repression.[5]

In what follows, I shall situate Jagucki’s case against a larger, though necessarily selective, picture of Polish Lutheran pastors’ collaboration with the Security Service in the years 1945-89.  As noted, the extent of the problem is becoming clear only now.  What is disturbing, however, is not only that historians have shattered the all too convenient myth of the church’s victimization by the communist regime and brought to light the church’s complicity.  The problem also has a present-day side.  The investigative work has been taken over by individuals, many of them professional historians, with no institutional ties of dependence to the ECAC.  This has been a reaction to what is seen as the church’s lack of real interest in coming to terms with its communist past.  Once it became clear that too many members of the ECAC’s current leadership would be implicated and would then have to act as judges in their own case, the historical commission’s enthusiasm seems to have petered out.  Already in Bishop Jagucki’s case, the commission showed itself to be susceptible to those who are decidedly not interested in raking things up because the church’s communist past is also very much their own past.  Church-political maneuvering has effectively reduced the commission’s activity to issuing warnings against hasty conclusions, with which it typically greets the results of others’ investigation.

However, if there were some in the church’s leadership who expected the problem eventually to go away or remain of interest only to a handful of historians, they have so far been proved wrong.  The perceived political maneuvering in the church’s highest ranks has given rise to a largely lay-led grassroots initiative concerned about the ECAC’s moral voice.  The emergence of this group has brought to light a dangerous fault line between the church’s clerical leaders, resorting to self-defensive theological platitudes, and a minority group of mostly younger lay persons who are concerned about the credibility of the ECAC’s witness.  I shall return to this in the final portion of this article.


Polish Lutherans and the Communist Government

Let me begin with some background.  In the interwar period, there were several Lutheran and Union churches in Poland.  The largest of those, with some 425,000 members, was the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, headquartered in Warsaw.  Its general superintendent and then presiding bishop was, throughout the entire period, the Rt. Rev. Juliusz Bursche, widely known for his pro-Polish sympathies.  The ECAC was largely Polish speaking, though with a substantial German-speaking minority.  The Prussian Union churches had some 270,000 members and were predominantly German in ethnicity.  Altogether Lutheran, Union and Reformed Christians added up to 2.6% of the population.[6]

The losses suffered by the Lutherans during World War II were incalculable.  At the war’s outbreak, the ECAC had 227 clergymen, of whom 125 declared Polish nationality.  Of those 125, 63 were arrested by the Nazis, 39 were sent to concentration camps, and 3 murdered in prison.  The ECAC was also the only Polish church body to lose its leader.  Already in early October 1939, the Nazis arrested Bishop Bursche, who had refused to leave the country and issued a statement condemning Germany’s aggression.  Bishop Bursche was then sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on charges of participation in the Versailles Peace Conference and betrayal of the Germans in Poland.  He died in uncertain circumstances in 1942.[7]  When the War ended, Poland had 352 Lutheran places of worship, served by only 42 pastors.  The total number of Lutherans in the first years after the war is estimated at 235,000.[8]  (At present the ECAC has some 80,000 members.)

The war’s end brought no relief but a host of new challenges.  In 1945 Poland found itself within new borders, with a large portion of its pre-war territory annexed by the Soviet Union and with new territorial gains in the west, granted at Germany’s expense by Stalin and his western allies.  The country was ruled by a communist government, entirely dependent on Stalin’s orders and legitimated solely by the presence of Soviet troops and the ever-expanding apparatus of terror.  Even after a considerable relaxation of the Soviet grip on the country, which took place during the 1954-56 period of de-Stalinization, the reality in which the Lutherans had to function was that of a state that sought far-reaching control over the lives and socio-political aspirations of its citizens.

What made matters even worse for the Lutherans was the popular post-war stereotype which portrayed them as Nazi sympathizers, or at best a foreign, German element in the native Catholic soil.  The only exception was the former Duchy of Cieszyn in Austrian Silesia, where Lutheranism was traditionally associated with Polish ethnicity; it remained a Lutheran stronghold.  In other parts of the country, the Lutherans were dispersed and forcibly thrust into an ethic mold many did not identify with.  The years immediately following the war saw numerous takeovers, despite protests, of Lutheran churches by Catholics on the pretext that the buildings were former German property.

The weakness of the ECAC – which in 1947 became, by law, the sole Lutheran church in Poland, incorporating both former Union and Old Lutheran parishes – made it turn to the government for protection.  But, not surprisingly, the government was only interested in guaranteeing the ECAC’s legal rights because it saw a place for the Lutherans in its own plans.  One of the Lutheran church’s abiding roles was to weaken the position of the Catholic church, which by virtue of its sheer size remained the only real competitor and threat in the communist struggle for the rule of souls.

In addition to this intermediate propaganda function (the government’s goal was not, after all, to have Catholics turned into Lutherans), there were also other roles that the government, at various times, envisaged for the Lutheran church.  Among them was, in the 1950s, the polonization (though here the government also feared accidental clericalization) of the native population of the former East Prussia.[9]  The government was also interested in monitoring Lutherans’ institutional and private contacts with the West, which became possible again after 1956.  The ECAC could perform this function less obtrusively.  Further, because of its contacts with the West, the Lutheran church served a vital role in presenting Poland as a country where freedom of belief and other civil rights were respected.  The church also proved useful in supporting the Polish government’s and even the entire Soviet block’s policies in face of their western detractors.  Notorious in this regard is Presiding Bishop Andrzej Wantuła’s reference to the Berlin Wall as “a wall of peace.”[10]  Last but not least, the communist regime, by its very nature, even aside from those goals, remained vitally interested in the activities of the church as a potential source of discontentment and subversion.

All of those roles necessitated the predictability of the church’s actions and its close cooperation with the authorities.  After 1956 this was to be achieved not through direct coercion, as in the Stalinist period, but through intrigue and indirect control, exercised by means of a network of reliable secret informers within the church’s ranks.  This is not to say that there were no informers in the church prior to 1956.  Far from it.  But once the government was no longer concerned with the imminent suppression of all church life, the issue of control became more pressing, while at the same time more complex and requiring greater sensitivity.

Interestingly enough, as one historian has observed, it is chiefly among the older generation of pastors who survived the war that one comes across skepticism and criticism of the new political reality.  An informer’s report accuses one pastor of having said at a pastoral conference in 1953: “It is our task to proclaim not that social change or the 6-year plan is important but that God’s Word is.  One must not engage in polemics during instruction, so that the other side might not accuse us of activism; but one must present the most important information where their textbooks attack our positions.  It is not so bad, because their teachers don’t believe yet what their textbooks say.”[11]  Likewise, one must admire the Kraków pastor, Karol Kubisz, who, after he had been forced to sign an informer’s agreement in 1953, not only did not deliver on it but, when repeatedly pressed by the Security Service officer, retorted that “he has his own job and is not going to snitch on people.”  This, it seems, put an end to any further demands for collaboration.[12]

In this light, it seems all the more surprising that, with Stalinist terror gone, so many pastors agreed “willingly” (if one is to believe the recruiters’ reports) to serve as secret informers.  What motivated them?  So far, according to Jan Szturc, the archives have not yielded a single case of blackmail pertaining to the informer’s financial dealings or his private life.  Most informers actually seem to have been driven by a desire to gain a position of prominence in the church.  The prevalent sentiment appears to have been that one could not make a career in the church without government support.  Another common type of motivation had to do with obtaining goods that were scarce, such as a passport to be able to travel abroad, as well as some types of material goods and other favors.  Among motivating factors was also fear of Roman-Catholic dominance: as long as the Catholic church suffered government restrictions, the restrictions imposed on the Lutherans did not matter.[13]

This latter reason is related to how some informers justified their collaboration to themselves: they were doing it for the good of the church, since both the communists and the Lutherans shared a common enemy, the Catholic church.  However, the good of the church was, according to Szturc, invoked merely for the sake of appeasing one’s conscience.  The guiding officers’ reports convey practically no expectations, on the informers’ part, of benefits to the church at large or to the informer’s own parish.  There were also a number of other strategies that helped one to appease a guilty conscience.  In some cases, the informers refused financial remuneration, though usually they did not shy away from accepting small gifts.  The Security Service also stopped requiring written declarations of collaboration, which may have created the impression of an informal, though secret, chat instead of a confidential exchange of sensitive information.  Not without importance here was, finally, the fact that some informers may have been led to believe that the information they divulged was only insignificant gossip.  The most common excuse one hears today is “What I said didn’t hurt anyone” – even though this cannot be anything more than a subjective impression.

There remains no doubt that the Security Service achieved its goal in regard to the Lutheran church.  Grzegorz Bębnik notes that “The saturation of the ECAC’s structures with informers was so high that not infrequently several informers, knowing nothing of one another, informed on one another.”  An informer that stands out, in particular, is the former superintendent of the Katowice Diocese, Rev. Adolf Hauptman.  His extensive connections to various Lutheran and charity organizations in the West and the seriousness with which he took his task earned him the reputation of an especially valuable source of operationally worthy intelligence.  In fact, he was such a prized informer that his guiding officer came to his funeral with a wreath in gratitude for the 31 years of fruitful collaboration.[14]  For many informers in the church’s ranks collaboration ended automatically only when Poland became a free country.


Problems with Repentance

In light of its sluggish performance to date, one can only speculate about why the ECAC’s historical commission was formed at all and what it was hoped it might find in the Security Service archives.  What is certain is that the decision to establish the commission followed the 2006 revision of the lustration law, which requires some public officials to submit lustration statements disclosing their dealings, if any, with the communist secret police.  The truthfulness of these statements is then vetted by the Institute of National Remembrance, where the Secret Service archives are now deposited.  Those found to be “lustration liars” are barred from public office.

The lustration law does not, of course, extend to churches.  However, the opening of the Security Service archives led some in the church to express concern about its moral authority – especially if it were to be historians and journalists, rather than the church itself, who first made public, and then passed judgment on, the unsavory pages in the ECAC’s history.  Concern about moral credibility, as well as the issue of timing, was certainly at play in the establishment of the ECAC’s historical commission.  It must be mentioned, further, that the archives are preserved only partially, many files having been destroyed in 1989-90.  For someone aspiring to public office, not to disclose one’s past may, therefore, be a risk worth taking.  Yet in reality, as we now know, even if operational reports are missing, the pseudonym of an actual informer appears in so many places that the fact of collaboration is generally beyond doubt.  The Security Service was not stupid enough to be fobbed off with worthless information; it carefully evaluated and verified operational reports, for example, against other informers’ accounts.[15]  There is thus a paper trail even if actual reports no longer exist.  Given the partial nature of the preserved files, it was perhaps hoped (if so, then rather naively) that the church would find in the archival material only confirmation of its self-perception as victim – as “a hostage of the times” (as a 2003 publication of the Polish Ecumenical Council described the Protestant churches in Poland and Germany in the 20th century).  But that was not to be.

Since Bishop Jagucki’s secret, conscious and harmful collaboration with the Security Service became public knowledge, the response of the ECAC’s leadership has been hubristic in the extreme.  The commission’s decision brought to light the tremendous pressure exerted on its members by the Consistory and the bishops, clearly stunned by what one could find in the archives and determined not to allow matters to progress any further.  Following the confirmation of Jagucki’s collaboration and in the absence of any remorse on his part, military bishop Ryszard Borski put forth a motion to the Synodical Assembly for Bishop Jagucki’s immediate retirement.  To prevent the motion from being considered, Bishop Jagucki and his supporters asked that a vote of confidence be taken first, evidently hoping it would be in his favor.  This turned out to be only a partial victory: the vote failed, but only by a simple, rather than absolute, majority.  This led to the shortening of Jagucki’s term, but allowed him to remain in office for another 8 months.  He was then retired with full benefits, even though he never served a full term as bishop and to this day has repeatedly refused to recognize the harm his actions caused, let alone apologize.  He remains the vice-president of the Polish Ecumenical Council, and the ECAC’s representative in that body.  Earlier this year he also took a part in the consecration of a new diocesan bishop.

Before leaving office, Bishop Jagucki made sure – in what is widely viewed as an act of revenge – that the military bishop would not be reelected for another term but rather forced into an early retirement.  This was not difficult to accomplish, considering there are still some 20 pastors, registered as Secret Service informers, who currently occupy high-ranking positions in the ECAC.  Until earlier this year, the number also included four of the six diocesan bishops (at present it is down to three).  This entire group reacts allergically to the idea of raking up the past and even more so to calls to accountability and repentance.  Most, it seems, would simply like to reach retirement age without having to face any uncomfortable questions.

However, being left in peace may no longer be an option in the era of the Internet.  The sense of incredulity at the political maneuvering of Bishop Jagucki and his camp has led to the rise of a mostly lay-led Internet forum where rank-and-file Lutherans have been able to comment on the state of the ECAC and the hubris of its leadership.[16]  Some members of the forum appear to be historians with access to the Security Service archives, some are journalists; most are concerned laity, joined by a handful of pastors, usually appearing under pseudonyms.

What brings them all together is their worry about the church’s moral credibility in today’s world.  But there is also a theological concern.  The ECAC’s renunciation of its own moral voice for the sake of self-preservation is symptomatic of an underlying perversion of the Lutheran teaching on justification.  Why repent if humans are justified apart from works?  This attitude, it is widely felt, seems to pervade the misguided actions of the ECAC’s leadership.  It has taken the place of the genuinely Lutheran question: Why not repent?  Why not repent when, thanks to our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, the entire life of believers can be one of repentance?  This moral-theological concern is coupled with a feeling of exasperation and even anger at the self-preserving actions of the ECAC’s leaders.  Yet there is also a growing sense of confidence not only that God will preserve the church but also that members of Christ’s body themselves can, and indeed should, bring about a change.

To date only the bishop of the Katowice Diocese, Tadeusz Szurman, has responded to the growing criticism.  “Let us not demand admission of guilt on the part of those who feel innocent,” he cautions in his post, “we have seen this before and it was the darkest side of totalitarianism.  Church members always have the right to make critical remarks, but do not forget about the dignity of people of faith and the image of our community on the outside.”[17]  Szurman is, of course, right that to insist on a confession of guilt from an innocent person is immoral.  But there is a difference between an innocent person and a person who merely feels innocent.  Szurman himself is among the bishops registered as Security Service informers.  By his own admission, he met with a guiding officer several times but offered no information and, therefore, does not feel the need to apologize.  It is especially in cases like Szurman’s that one should have the courage, as Cezary Gmyz postulates, to petition for auto-lustration in order to have one’s name cleared.  This procedure entrusts the tracking down and analysis of the archival material to a specially established court.  The court determines, on the basis of the extant evidence, not only the fact of secret collaboration but also whether it was conscious and caused actual harm.  A pastor registered as an informer should take advantage of this procedure in his own interest and in the interest of those he serves.

Unfortunately, the current presiding bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jerzy Samiec, seems largely inclined to let sleeping dogs lie.  He was, in any case, elected on the platform of putting a stop to lustration proceedings and had himself played a role, as Synodical Assembly President, in the maneuvering that was to save Bishop Jagucki’s head.  The sentiment, prevalent among the current leadership, remains that expressed by the historical commission’s chair, Dawid Binemann-Zdanowicz, shortly before the meeting that was to decide Bishop Jagucki’s guilt.  In a letter to the Consistory, Zdanowicz accused pastors who had refused to collaborate with the communist secret police of harming the church.  “Every pastor,” he wrote, “knew that the Security Service was the secret political police, and that showing hostility to or disregarding its representatives was obvious foolhardiness and an activity that harmed the church.”[18]  What all this means in practice can be illustrated by the example of one pastor who was legally declared a victim of secret informers among fellow pastors.  This pastor has been denied the right to have the court sentence published in the church’s official periodical “for fear of causing grief to those on the other side.”[19]

Given all this, it remains to wish perseverance to the concerned laity of the ECAC, as they call on the church to face its past with integrity.  They seem to have a better sense of what a life of repentance and enjoyment of God’s forgiveness might be all about.  Already in this, there is hope.

[1] Cezary Gmyz, “Pastor i Bezpieka,” Rzeczpospolita (26 September 2008).

[2] Throughout this article I shall make no distinction between the commission as made up of two research teams, on the one hand, and the supervisory college, distinct from those, on the other.  I shall simply refer to “the commission” and take it for granted that it is the college that has actual decisional powers.  The historical commission’s statute is available via the ECAC’s website at

[3] Ryszard Borski, “Doświadczenia życia w komunizmie jako duszpasterskie i historyczne wyzwanie [The Experience of Life under Communism as a Pastoral and Historical Challenge]”; and Cezary Gmyz, “Co kryje archiwum IPN?”  Both articles can be found at

[4] Jarosław Kłaczkow, Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Polsce w latach 1945-1975 (Toruń: Adam Marszałek, 2010).

[5] Not insignificant here is the fact that the Academy was (and to this day remains) a state school, created and supported by the government after the expulsion of the Lutheran Theology Faculty from the University of Warsaw in 1954.

[6] The data come from the 1931 census.  For a more detailed breakdown, see Elżbieta Alabrudzińska, Protestantyzm w Polsce w latach 1918-1939 (Toruń: Adam Marszałek, 2009), 90.

[7] For a discussion of the German atrocities committed against Polish Lutheran clergy, see Woldemar Gastpary, Protestantyzm w Polsce w dobie dwóch wojen światowych (Warszawa: ChAT, 1981), 203-218.

[8] Kłaczkow, Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski, 105.

[9] Ryszard Michalak, “Kościoły Protestanckie w koncepcjach i działaniach Urzędu do Spraw Wyznań (1950-1989),” Jarosław Kłaczkow (ed.), Polski Protestanztyzm w czasach nazizmu i komunizmu (Toruń: Adam Marszałek, 2009), 176-77.

[10] Kłaczkow, Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski, 305ff.  Wantuła remains a controversial figure.  He was by all accounts an excellent pastor, theology professor, and church leader.  During the war he was imprisoned in the Mathausen-Gusen concentration camp for refusing to deliver his sermons in German.  It was through his efforts that the Polish Lutheran church hosted the 1961 meeting of the Executive Council of the Lutheran World Federation.  In recognition of talents, Wantuła was elected Vice-President of the LWF at its 1963 assembly in Helsinki.  At the same time, as Bishop of the Church (1959-75), he remained completely loyal to the communist authorities.  By doing so, he arguably contributed to the stabilization of the church’s situation.

[11] Cited in Grzegorz Bębnik, “Od »Górala« do »Gustawa« – zwierzchnicy Kościoła ewangelicko-augsburskiego na Górnym Śląsku wobec aparatu bezpieczeństwa w świetle dokumentów z archiwów Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej (szkic problemu),” Aparat Represji w Polsce Ludowej 1944-1989 (2008), 1:52, 54.

[12] The citation comes form a guiding officer’s report.  Cited in Grzegorz Bębnik, “Historia jednego werbunku: Ks. Karola Kubisza zmagania z UB,” Kłaczkow (ed.), Polski Protestanztyzm, 339.

[13] For a comprehensive overview, see Jan Szturc, “Duchowni Kościoła Ewangelicko-Augsburskiego w PRL wobec Służby Bezpieczeństwa (1956-1989),” Kłaczkow (ed.), Polski Protestanztyzm, 284-92.

[14] I owe this information to Bębnik, “Od »Górala« do »Gustawa«,” 53, 59-61.

[15] To the reliability of the archives, see Szturc, “Duchowni Kościoła,” 280-82.

[16] At  See also, which is run by some concerned pastors who have had the courage to speak up and to oppose the direction in which the church is currently heading.  This group includes the military bishop emeritus.

[17] Tadeusz Szurman, (in a post dated 17 November 2010).

[18] In a letter written from Ciechocinek and dated 23 March 2009.

[19] Tadeusz Konik, “Odmieńcy,” at

Piotr J. Malysz

This article appeared in the quarterly Lutheran Forum 45:2 (Summer 2011), pp. 36-41.

Piepkorn on Scriptural Inerrancy

We make available here an article, “What Does ‘Inerrancy’ Mean?” by Arthur Carl Piepkorn (1907-1973), one of the more significant 20th-century Lutheran theologians in America.  In this article Piepkorn usefully traces the genealogy of the term ‘inerrancy’ and its use by the Lutheran scholastics.  He then presents an overview of the difficulties that the concept poses before finally moving to a theological consideration of it.  The piece was originally published in Concordia Theological Monthly 36:8 (September 1965), pp. 577-593.